Dell has managed to make a strong name for itself as far as Ultrabooks go and it is once again taking the lead in the market with the swanky new XPS 12. The smallest in the series, the XPS 12 combines the same premium, high-quality craftsmanship we’ve seen in the XPS 13 with a bit of razzle dazzle. It first looks like a regular Ultrabook, with a quick screen flip, it turns in to a tablet! Dell had debuted this same concept a few CESs back, but it never really made it to production because the software wasn’t quite touch-friendly at the time.So, does the XPS 12 have enough practical value to justify the high price tag? Let’s find out.
Design and build
On the face of it, the XPS 12 looks like nothing more than a shrunken down version of the XPS 13.Save for the carbon fibre finish on the lid, it looks pretty much identical to its elder siblings. The chassis is made up of a mix of carbon fibre, machined aluminum and Gorilla Glass for the display. This make the notebook extremely durable and sturdy and it will happily taking the beating of everyday use without showing any scars. It’s quite light as well, with a starting weight of 1.54Kg.While this is quite light for a notebook, it’s a lot for a tablet.
The ports and buttons are arranged little differently so that it is convenient to use in either modes. We have speaker grilles on either side for stereo sound, a volume rocker and an orientation lock button for tablet mode, a headphone jack and the power switch to the left. The other side houses two USB 3.0 ports, the charging port and a mini DisplayPort connector. There’s no card reader, LAN jack or HDMI present.
You can switch to tablet mode by simply rotating the display within the bezel itself. There are latches that hold the screen in place when locked into position so that it doesn’t accidently pop out when travelling. The mechanism is extremely smooth and fluid, allowing you to flip the screen in one swift motion. The backlit keyboard is the exact same one used on the XPS 13 and just like it, the battery is also non-removable.Overall, the Dell XPS 12 is very well-designed and built and simply exudes style and luxury.
The XPS 12 is available in four preset configurations. The based model that we received came with an Intel Core i5-3317U lvy Bridge CPU,4 GB of DDR3 RAM and 128GB SSD storage. This being a hybrid notebook, you get windows 8 as the os choice. The XPS 12 maxes out at a core i7-3517U,8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.sadly, there’s no option for discrete GPU even if you want it. The battery capacity also remains the same. One good thing is that you get a full HD display as default, no matter which configuration you pick. The panel has very good viewing angles and excellent color reproduction, which makes watching video or simply using modern UI a real treat. However, one side effect of having such a high-resolution display on a screen this small is that the desktop environment doesn’t scale as well as Modern UI, so everything looks really small. This makes it a real task to work on text documents or simply read anything without having to zoom in.
Thanks to the SSD onboard, the XPS 12 performs very well. We record a very healthy read speed of 420 MB/s in SiSoft Sandra 2013’s ‘File System’ test.PCMark7 returned an overall score of 4685 points while 3DMark Vantage scored 10.523 with the entry level preset. Video encoding and file compression will also benefit greatly here due the SSD. Storage is limited here ,so you won’t be able to dump your entire music and movie collection on the notebook.
As an ultrabook, the XPS 12 is extremely portable and very comfortable to use even for extend typing. The keys have good tactile feedback as well. The trackpad is large enough to use comfortably, but it tends to get in the way while typing. Audio quality is also pretty good. The volume levels are high thanks to the side-mounted speakers and the quality of audio is also very good for movies and music. The auto-rotate toggle button is handy addition to the notebook. Dell has had to ditch the memory card reader and other connectivity option like LAN ports.
The weight of the XPS 12 can be a problem in tablet mode, though. Don’t expect to carry the ultrabook around with one hand for too long like you would a typical tablet since that’s just not possible. Fatigue tends to set in very soon on your wrist. One tablet feature we found missing was the ability to toggle the screen on and off like you do on a Smartphone or tablet. Even in tablet mode, pressing the power button put the XPS 12 is standby mode,so you can’t really wake it up instantaneously.
We found the XPS 12’s battery life to be average. We managed to get two solid two hours, which roughly translates to about 4 hours of good usage. You’ll be able to squeeze out a little more if you’re careful with your usage, but don’t expect too much.
With a starting price of $1586.5, the XPS 12 is one expensive notebook, even for an ultrabook. While it does have a very good feature set, behind the fancy new rotating screen, it’s a very average performing notebook. The hybrid nature of the device is fun, but we’re sure that the novelty will wear off after a while. The Windows 8 store has still a long way to go in terms of windows app and until then, traditional desktop applications will still rule-and you don’t need a fancy touch screen to use them.